Sunday, November 12, 2006

Clusters last stand?

There was a small victory today for that much-maligned force called international law. A Geneva conference led by Sweden announced a new law will soon come into force requiring countries to clear up unexploded bombs and mines or pay teams of de-miners to do it. Is this what they meant by carbon trading? The treaty covers ordnance such as land mines and cluster bombs. The US, China, Russia and the UK all oppose the outright banning of them at the moment or as Washington lawyer and leader of the US delegation to the Geneva conference Ronald Bettauer said the “time is not right to discuss a ban… because the bomb still plays an important military function”.

Simon Conway of the Landmine Action charity says the weapon is a redundant legacy of the Cold War, designed for use against mass Warsaw Pact army formations charging across the central European plain. The conference is taking place in Geneva as Switzerland and the UN back calls for cluster bombs to be outlawed. Debate over the use of the weapon intensified after Israel dropped them on southern Lebanon in its month-long war against Hezbollah militia earlier this year.

Cluster bombs are dispensed or dropped from an aircraft. Dropped ordnance is divided into three subgroups: bombs; dispensers, which contain submunitions; and submunitions. Submunitions are classified are “bomblets” , grenades, or mines. Some are very small and are delivered on known concentrations of enemy personnel, scattered across an area. They are used to primarily kill infantry. Cluster bombs were developed first by Germany in World War II with their "Butterfly Bomb." It was so called because it fluttered in flight. It was quckly copied by the Russians, US and Italians. They were used in 2003 in Iraq and earlier this year Israel used cluster bombs in several areas in South Lebanon, including the towns of Blida, Hebbariyeh and Kfarhamam.

The problem with cluster bombs is that some don’t explode immediately. Like land mines they leave a dubious legacy to the peacemakers after a war. It may seem puzzling that such an unreliable weapon, which makes no distinction between friend and enemy, is not banned. But as George Monbiot (via Taiwan!) said “The necessary resources, both economic and political, will always be found for the purpose of terminating life”.

Britain announced on 9 November is to phase out "dumb" cluster bombs and join negotiations aimed at imposing global limits on their use. That leaves the US, China and Russia to convince. And shame, if necessary.

No comments: